CENTER TOWNSHIP | Tom Cierniak got through the chute, pivoted and immediately began greeting fellow competitors coming in behind him.
After finishing second at Tuesday’s Crown Point Sectional at Lemon Lake County Park, the Crown Point senior runner was not being boastful. He was just being a gracious host.
“It’s a tough course, and you’ve got to congratulate everybody because to finish is still an accomplishment,” Cierniak said. “It’s our home course, but everyone is competing for the same thing.”
Teammates Daniel Walters and Alex Ray, who finished right behind Cierniak, also shook hands and patted shoulders after the race. The Bulldogs indeed were gracious hosts, but they weren’t generous enough to let anyone else win a sectional.
The Crown Point boys and girls both edged Hobart in the team standings to sweep the sectional races Tuesday and move on to another home meet, Saturday’s Crown Point Regional, along with the top five teams and top 15 individual finishers Tuesday.
“Those top three have been solid for us all season,” C.P. boys coach Keith Iddings said. “Coming in and knowing we’ve got kids who can perform at this level is terrific.”
Iddings unfurled a congratulatory sign for a team picture, but the sign has been in his possession for years and dates back to the year 2000 when Bud Slepcevich made a sectional championship banner to display in front of his business on North Street when his son Robert ran for Iddings.
The Bulldogs won their 22nd sectional after their streak of four straight was snapped last year. The C.P. girls won their seventh straight and 16th overall.
“Last year we didn’t put on the show we knew we could,” Cierniak said. “We can always improve.”
Not surprisingly Lowell’s Kyle Eller repeated as the individual boys champ, shaving 19 seconds off his 2011 time to finish in 16:24.
Cierniak crossed in 16:39 with Walters (16:41), Ray (16:53) and Merrillville’s Tyler Gray (17:05) next.
Girls race winner Celena Guerrero of Hobart had never won a sectional despite deep postseason runs the last two seasons. Three stress fractures have hampered Guerrero in previous seasons, but after taking the title in 19:49 Tuesday she said she feels great.
“I went in doing what I hoped and planned to do, and I can’t ask for much more,” she said. “I feel all the work from the past, especially with the struggles I had last year, it felt like all that is paying off, and I’m hoping for the best the rest of the postseason.”
Defending champ Becca Conley of Andrean placed 14th. Guerrero’s teammate Mindy Whidden was second, and Hebron’s Payton Schatz was third ahead of Kayla McGurk, who was the first of the five Crown Point runners in the top 15.
“This was one of our most difficult races; it was really hard,” McGurk said. “We’ve been running a lot better as a pack.”